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Cuban boxing legend Teofilo Stevenson dead at 60

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Tue June 12, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Teofilo Stevenson won Olynmpic gold medals for Cuba in 1972, 1976 and 1980
  • He passed up a big payday, declining to fight professionally against Mohammed Ali
  • "What is $1 million compared to the love of 8 million Cubans?" he declared

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Olympic gold medal-winning boxer Teofilo Stevenson died from a heart attack in Havana, Cuban state media reported Monday.

He was 60 years old.

Stevenson won three Olympic gold medals fighting for Cuba and is still tied for the record in the sport.

Boxing was briefly banned after Cuba's 1959 revolution. But with the help of Soviet trainers, Cuba soon became a powerhouse in the sport, with Stevenson as one of the island's most famous fighters.

The imposing Cuban heavyweight won gold in 1972, 1976 and 1980, when Cold War tensions often took center stage at the games.

Olympics 2012: Secrets to Cuba's boxing success

But Stevenson did not fight in 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, after Cuba joined the Soviet Union in boycotting the games.

Promoters dreamed of pairing Stevenson against Muhammed Ali but the match never took place despite their offering Stevenson millions of dollars to fight.

Cuban athletes are not allowed to compete professionally, and they earn only a fraction of the salaries that their counterparts in other countries take home.

But Stevenson did not appear to have any regrets about his decision to turn down a big payday by staying amateur.

"What is $1 million compared to the love of 8 million Cubans?" he famously declared.

In an interview with CNN in May, Stevenson showed the strain from his many battles in the ring. But the boxing champion still possessed a sharp wit and easy smile.

"Cubans like to box because of our temperament," Stevenson said, "Because of our idiosyncrasies and because we have needed to know how to defend ourselves."

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